The Mindless Menace of Violence


Robert F Kennedy made this speech “The Mindless Menace of Violence” on April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King’s assassination. I pasted some of his words below, which are, sadly, as relevant as ever. We still have a long way to go. I know that this blog is tiny, and that it won’t make a dent in the massive, coordinated campaign of anger that exists online. These sentiments won’t reach the right people, and will persuade few minds. I’ve been online long enough to know that most minds are already made up, and some will find RFK’s words naïve at best, and at worst worthy of contempt. But I think they are necessary.

when you teach a man to hate and to fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies that he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your home or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies — to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and to be mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as alien, alien men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in a common effort. We learn to share only a common fear — only a common desire to retreat from each other — only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force.

For all this there are no final answers for those of us who are American citizens. Yet we know what we must do, and that is to achieve true justice among all of our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions, the false distinctions among men, and learn to find our own advancement in search for the advancement of all. We must admit to ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortune of another’s. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or by revenge.

Our lives on this planet are too short, the work to be done is too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in this land of ours. Of course we cannot vanish it with a program, nor with a resolution.

But we can perhaps remember — if only for a time — that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek — as do we — nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment that they can.

Surely this bond of common fate, surely this bond of common goals can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look around at those of us, of our fellow man, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.

4 thoughts on “The Mindless Menace of Violence

  1. Different time, different era, Patrick. I’m not one to think the “good old days” were typically better than the present. But Robert Kennedy would have run circles around all but a few of today’s politicians for leadership, insight, and vision.

    Of course, politics is a filthy business and now politicians are ever very clean. But the best do this: They work out ways for people to coexist without things coming to civil wars, etc. That to me is a mark of a competent politician.

  2. Oh, about your blog. Your posts are consistently high quality. Not enough of them to realistically expect much of an audience, but who knows, Patrick? Some day one of your few readers might go onto to become the next Kennedy or Sanders, and you will have had a part in shaping their maps of the world. Can’t say it won’t happen.

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